1. Data & Insights

Sales Operations As Switzerland: How Sales Leaders Can Avoid The Politics Of Territory Design

Right now, you may be rethinking your organization’s sales territory design process. Depending on where you are in your fiscal year, you’re either reaping the rewards of previous decisions or feeling a pang of angst. Territory design and the subsequent application and management of those plans is fraught with opportunities for distortion by human intervention.

Typically, the process begins with the four following steps:

  1. Determine sales workload and capacity
  2. Create, analyze, and map territories
  3. Review plans with the field and update accordingly
  4. Implement and monitor plans

The outcome, at its simplest, is intended to maximize the organization’s total addressable market (TAM) by designing and optimizing sales territories based on the go-to-market architecture, coverage model, market potential, and sales workload and capacity. There are often key inflection points within the design process that dilute the effectiveness of the plan.

This disruption often occurs within steps three and four, when the human element begins to unduly influence — and even distort — the insights and data that sales operations is using to design efficient territories. During these steps, sales operations must remain a neutral party in the politics of assigning territories and key accounts.

Despite the data, sales reps and sales leaders will often lobby to:

  •  expand territories beyond what is equitable
  •  keep key accounts because they’ve created and socialized a narrative that only they can effectively service and/or sell to that account
  • ignore pipeline data or inflate/deflate pipelines to influence underlying data and subsequent insights
  •  leverage compensation plan rewards that have been “gamed” to ensure quota attainment and maximum earnings to validate territory decisions

I recognize all of these inflection points because I’ve exploited them at one time or the other. I’ve also made decisions to change territories, despite the data and recommendations from sales operations, because of intense lobbying from salespeople I believed I couldn’t lose.

It was during these discussions that I needed sales operations to effectively articulate the validity of the data and the extrapolations derived from them to inform the territory assignments. This kind of neutrality and objectivity could have reinforced, validated, and emboldened my decision-making.

Today’s planning and design technologies will mitigate some of the human influence, while adding increased rigor and accountability to the territory planning, design, and implementation process. However, technology alone won’t solve the problem. Sales operations must increase its business acumen (What is the data telling me about how to achieve our key metrics?); empathy (How will the sales team respond to my recommendations?); and communications skills (How can the recommendations be effectively communicated to all stakeholders?) to mediate the process and effectively advise sales leaders.

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